Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for October 2022

Halloween Musings

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Folks, as I write this, it’s two days until Halloween. Three days until All Soul’s Day. And the official Day of the Dead ceremonies go from October 31 to November 2, 2022.

As this is a time where we’re not quite to winter, yet it’s colder more days than not, there’s an awful lot of personal reflection going on. (I don’t think I’m alone in this.) What have we done this year? What would our loved ones on the Other Side be proud of, and maybe not-so-proud of?

When I was young, I was like everyone else. I wore cute costumes (I think I went one year as a pink fairy; Mom and Grandma helped me make a “wand” with aluminum foil that looked a bit like a Star of David), went out to get Halloween candy, and possibly went to a few minor parties. (They were all very tame parties. A “lock-in” at the local Aladdin’s Castle, a place to play a ton of video games, was one of them. Another was at a good male friend’s house; I knew he was gay, but we didn’t talk about it then, and I had a huge crush on him anyway.)

As I got older, I read a great deal about the significance of Halloween. It started out as Hallowe’en — as in, the evening before All Soul’s Day. (All Hallow’s Eve got contracted to Hallowe’en.) It was a Christian religious observance that happened around the same time as Pagan Samhain (“Sow’en” is the pronunciation), and it’s possible — I think likely — that the early Christian church kept the day and most of its rituals in order to help people convert without having to “convert” people by taking up arms against them.

Of course, Samhain this year is on October 31. (Many years, it coincides. But not always, to the best of my recollection.) It is celebrated from dusk to the dawn of November 1. It is thought by many, particularly those in the NeoPagan community, that Samhain is when the veils between this world and the next are the thinnest. (Note the similarity with the Day of the Dead celebrations. I’m sure it’s not accidental.)

For me, as a NeoPagan, what I do is very similar to what I did as a Catholic, earlier in life: I light a candle, and think about my loved ones. I have several that I think about in addition to my beloved husband, Michael…I think a lot about Grandma, great-grandma on my father’s side (called “Aiti”), my uncle Carl and aunt Laurice, my best friend Jeff Wilson, my good friend Larry (dead for over thirty years, now, via suicide, but not forgotten), and more.

If I can find it, I will buy a Mountain Dew (diet, even though that’s not what my husband drank; he drank the regular stuff, thank you very many, and he preferred Code Red or the orange Livewire if he could find them), and sip it slowly. (I don’t know what foods would appeal that much to any of my relatives or to Jeff, but I know for a fact that Mountain Dew and a few specific candy bars and such are what Michael would like, if he could taste them through me.)

But most of all, it’s about reflection. What have I done? What can I still do? Would my loved ones approve of what I’ve done or what I’ve at least tried to do?

So, yeah. It’s not all about the candy and the costume parties for me. Not anymore.

What are you planning to do this year for your Halloween/Samhain/Day of the Dead festivities? Let me know in the comments…and if it’s that you’re going to a costume party, that’s good (so long as I don’t have to go!)

Fantastic Schools Hols Just Released — Look for my Newest Elfyverse Story There!

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As the overly long title to this blog says, Fantastic Schools Hols has just been released.

Now, as to why I explicitly put “look for my newest Elfyverse story there” into the headline…there lies a (brief) tale.

See, as I’m not well-known, I’m not among the named authors on the front of the book. (I’m instead part of the “many more.”) Amazon has something weird going on where only nine authors in addition to Chris Nuttall (the biggest name here, and by far the draw as well) were able to be listed…I don’t understand this. Maybe it was just a quirk in the system.

The upshot of that is, if you don’t know my story is in there, you won’t find it very easily. Not unless you go to my Amazon Author Page, which does have it included. (Amazon’s customer service there was outstanding; the customer service rep fixed it within two hours, I think, and got it on my page.)

So, you might be wondering what the story is about. (Ha! It’s time to tell you…insert not-so-evil Halloween crackling voice.)

It’s called “Jon and Leftwich Have a Holiday Adventure.” As every story had to deal with a holiday from magical school, mine dealt with Bruno (then named Jon) and his best pal, Iarlait Leftwich, who goes only by his last name as Iarlait is just too silly of a name to be borne (so Leftwich has told me, and I’m not messing around with that…ahem.) It’s Ba’altinne there, or Beltane as we’d have it; they have an important religious ceremony there called Blessing of the Beasts. Every single animal has to be blessed by someone…the high muckety-mucks get Lady Keisha Madhrogan (the equivalent of our Pope), who is an important character in the two Elfy novels. But Joe Schmoes like Bruno and Leftwich are at this point in their lives get postulants, not full priests.

The adventure starts when Leftwich’s dog, Annbess, decides she doesn’t particularly want to be blessed today. She takes exception (or at least is fascinated by) the necklace the postulant, Karenna, is wearing; it looks like a map of the stars, and as such, it means the owner plans on committing a great deed that’s worthy of such an important gift.

Well, Annbess somehow gets the necklace off the postulant and runs off. The two boys have to somehow find Annbess, hope she has the necklace still (or at least get some idea as to where else it might be), and they only have their wits plus their magic (mostly Bruno’s magic, as Leftwich is too scattered by all of this to help much) to get the necklace back before Karenna’s Reverend Mother gets involved.

At any rate, I hope this little blurb (or synopsis, or call it what you will) has whet your appetite for downloading Fantastic Schools Hols and reading all the stories there (not just mine). If you have Kindle Unlimited, it is free to read…and I don’t know about you, but “free” in this economy is one of my favorite words, ever.

Before I go, I’ll explain where the chronology of this story is. It would be the first story about Bruno (again, then named Jon) doing anything of a magical nature, but it’s told as a frame story from after the rousing events of the two Elfy novels. (“Hey, do you remember when Annbess ran off…?”) So it’s both first and last, chronologically…which suits me fine, as I tend to be silly like that.

I do hope you will read the story, you’ll get a few chuckles out of it, and that you’ll start reminding me of my promise to finish up an Elfyverse collection and get it out by the end of the year. (Still working on it, honest!)

Come back and let me know if you’ve read it, hey?

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 21, 2022 at 2:17 am

Recapitulation or Reversal?

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Folks, I’ve come to a fork in the road.

Earlier this year, I discussed what it felt like to be dismissed from the Racine Concert Band. I’d been in that band on and off since I turned fourteen, played three different instruments in it at various times, soloed on all three instruments in front of the band, and done everything I possibly could to represent the band well.

Being told I was no longer welcome was a major reversal.

Suddenly, a bedrock of my life was no longer there. Even though I’d had previous experience with bedrocks not being there (what else could I call widowhood, except that?), it stung to know that people I’d known most of my life had no compassion or understanding.

When you’re hurting, whether it’s from physical illness, depression, protracted grief, or anything else, you need both of those things in order to heal. You also have to learn how to be compassionate toward your own self — something I’ve found incredibly difficult — as you struggle with it all.

“But Barb,” you ask. (Yes, I can hear you.) “What’s this bit about recapitulation about?”

In music, recapitulation is a statement of the main theme, usually toward the end of a movement or piece. (For the musicians in the audience, yes, I know full well I’m oversimplifying.) In writing, a recap is restating the main points of whatever your argument is, and a recap often summarizes that selfsame argument.

Basically, I’m trying to figure out what my life means now that my time in the RCB is over.

As my Facebook motto says, I’m a writer, editor, musician and composer. I am all these things, and I will always be all of these things.

Eventually, I hope to play again in some sort of band or orchestra. Music feeds the soul (as my friend Lika has put it so well), and right now my inner self feels very far from fed.

For now, though…I continue to work, slowly, on my various musical compositions. (I write melodies first, and fight with harmonies later. I know that sounds odd — harmony isn’t supposed to be a struggle! — but the melodies come very easily to me, while the harmonies don’t.) I continue to work on my writing, too, while also editing, proofreading, or doing whatever I can to aid another writer and/or editor providing it won’t drive me straight into the ground.

I guess, if I had to pick one of the above — reversal or recapitulation — I’d go for the recap instead. At least with the recap, you’re hitting the high points…and if you’re talking about yourself, in your own life, sometimes reminding yourself there have actually been high points is necessary.

Especially when you’ve dealt with too many reversals, too quickly, to be borne.

What have you done, when you’ve come to a fork in the road? Or when you’ve had too many reversals hit you, all at once? Please tell me, in the comments…as at the moment, I feel akin to someone shouting into the void.

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 18, 2022 at 4:06 am

Inspiration Is Where You Find It

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I want to talk about inspiration for a bit, because I truly do think inspiration is where you find it.

Consider, please, that when you go outside, you see small animals. Birds. Squirrels. Rabbits. Assorted critters of various sizes along those lines.

Observing wildlife, just watching them, gives you the idea that the struggles we face aren’t a patch on what they do.

In the middle of fall, as we are now in much of the Northern Hemisphere, a squirrel is storing away food to make it through the winter. A bird is figuring out where it’s going to nest, or perhaps lighting out for warmer climates. A rabbit…well, who knows what’s going to happen to it, as there are many competitors for that rabbit, and most do not indicate a long life.

Yet they continue to get up, move around, and do whatever they can to extend their lives. It’s instinctual, sure…but it’s also inspirational.

None of us know the future. None of us have any idea what will happen tomorrow, or the day after that either. Yet we continue to get up and do what we can, in the hope that it’ll matter down the line.

All we can do is our best. Every day. In every way.

If we realize that, and if we are observant, we can find many things to inspire us and also to give us hope, even during the darkest time of the year. (As Ned Stark put it in Game of Thrones, “Winter is coming.”)

The most important thing to do, though, is the hardest.

Believe in yourself. Believe in your talents and abilities. Give them a chance to flower, no matter how rocky the ground is, and no matter how much fertilizer you have to put on that ground in the meantime.

If you can do that, you’re one step closer to where you want to be.

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 4, 2022 at 12:17 am

Former President Jimmy Carter Turns 98 Today

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When I woke up, I realized it was Jimmy Carter’s birthday.

I’ve always admired the former president, as he is an exemplary human being. He’s kind, gracious, funny, wise, smart, prescient, and constant in his affections (as he’s been married for 75 years to the love of his life, Rosalynn). He’s also hard-working, honest, a philanthropist (he’s built many houses for Habitat for Humanity, which helps people in need with sustainable housing), taught Bible study at his local church for many years (only stopping due to his health woes of the last few years), and has done everything in his power to improve life on this Earth.

I was quite young when Jimmy Carter was elected. (I know, I know; some of you who read this blog were not even a glimmer in your parent’s eyes at that time. Bear with me.) I was with my grandma, and we’d stayed up to watch the election returns all night. It was a hard-fought contest, but Carter prevailed.

His presidency was fraught with difficulty and even peril. There was trouble in the Middle East, as hostages had been taken. (They only were released after Carter lost his bid for a second term.) There was stagflation — inflation combined with no increases in wages, so everything had stagnated. I even remember that my parents had to think ahead in order to get gas for their cars, as you could only fill up on even or odd numbered days depending on the last digit in your license plate.

(Things were that bleak.)

Jimmy Carter was mocked, at the time, for wearing a sweater and having a fireside chat. He discussed troubles the way a good man does: directly, honestly, with sympathy and with understanding. This was not a man who believed he was exalted above all others (as so many of our other previous presidents believed, most especially Richard Nixon). Instead, he believed he was one of us, and as such, he could lead by example.

While some don’t appreciate his presidency, most do appreciate him as a person. He’s been called “the most successful ex-president who’s ever lived” (at least, that’s what my grandma called him, and I think she was right), due to his belief in human dignity and kindness.

I admire Jimmy Carter. He has lived his faith, you see, and he has helped others. He has done everything he can, often with little fanfare, to make things better for those who have little to nothing. He has remembered the downtrodden (see his work, again, with Habitat for Humanity), and he has done everything he can to help raise them up.

This is why I urge you all to raise a glass to celebrate Jimmy Carter’s 98th birthday, and to wish him continued good health.

We need more men like him in this world, to remind us that people — even those in power — can still be good, kind, solid human beings.